After years of living apart because of war in their home country, a Syrian family is now safely together in P.E.I.
Pharmacists George Nakhleh and Daisy Hamwi, along with their children, five-year-old Mark and three-year-old Lutchina, were given a warm welcome to Canada during a meet and greet potluck at Charlottetown’s Central Christian Church Sunday.
Nakhleh said the family is extremely happy to be in P.E.I.
“Firstly, we (feel) safe,” said Nakhleh. “The future for our children is very good. The freedom here, it’s very high.”
The family arrived in Canada on Friday with the help of The Brother’s Keeper Refugee Sponsorship Team, a community sponsorship group made up of several churches across P.E.I.
Nakhleh and Hamwi were married in 2011, the same year the war broke out in Syria.
The next year, the pharmacy Nakhleh owned was broken into by a terrorist group.
“I lost everything,” said Nakhleh. “I lost my house. I lost my pharmacy. I lost my car. I lost everything in the past… they came to my pharmacy and stole everything. Then they came to our house.”
When the terrorists found Nakhleh at home, the experience was so frightening it caused a pregnant Hamwi to suffer a miscarriage.
“When they came to our house they broke all the crosses on the wall,” he said. “We lost our house and moved to my parents’ house.”
In 2015, Nakhleh’s name was on a conscription list, legally obligating him to join the country’s government army.
That’s when he escaped to Lebanon. Due to certain laws, Hamwi could not go with him because she was of a Palestinian background.
The couple spent the next three years risking their lives to be together.
Nakhleh had not seen his youngest child in some time and risked going back to Syria unnoticed.
“(For) about two years I didn’t see my daughter,” he said. “So I went to Syria illegally twice to see her.”
The couple wanted a better life for their family and started talking to Daisy’s cousin Bassel Malke, who lives in P.E.I.
“We wanted to be safe together,” said Nakhleh. “They advised us to come to Canada. (It’s) a better future for our children.”
The journey was not without setbacks.
The family did not pass the first screening to come to Canada, so the committee working to get them to P.E.I appealed the decision in court and won.
Then the family was denied a second time in January due to a clerical error that did not recognize the committee as a legitimate organization.
The error was brought to government and was quickly fixed.
The group then worked to get the family an affordable living space in Charlottetown. Members found one in February, just minutes away from Hamwi’s extended family.
Hamwi, who has a masters in biochemistry, said they are happy to be with family.
“To have family here, it makes life much easier,” she said through a translator. “There’s someone here to take you around. Even we consider Paul (Stevenson) part of the family because we were in contact with him all the time and that made our life much, much easier.”
The Brother’s Keeper Refugee Sponsorship Team also brought the Tomas family to P.E.I. from Syria 10 months ago.
Paul Stevenson, vice-chair of the group, said the Tomas family is doing well.